Fear. It is the most base of all of mankind's emotions... next to hunger, and love of puppy-related Internet memes. And although fear is a phenomenon shared by all people, it takes many forms — tangible and intangible. Rational and irrational. Horror movie-inspired and not horror movie-inspired.
Hollywood has been adhering dreadful connotations to otherwise innocuous entities for generations now. In fact, today marks the 30-year anniversary of one of the film industry's most dastardly ruinations: Poltergeist — the movie that made TVs horrifying.
Before Poltergeist, television was the escape from late night terrors. When you found yourself kept up through the morning by a howling wind, creaking floorboard, or the ever-present threat of a forthcoming nuclear winter, you could flick on the television and ease your mind with comforting Nick at Nite reruns. At least that's what I did. Life before the 1990s must have been dark.
And then, Poltergeist found its way into my life. It wasn't my first foray into horror films. By this time, I had endured countless of losses at the hands of the genre. Psycho ruined showers — a particularly trying endeavor for a kid already struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Hausu ruined cats. Carrie ruined my impending teen years.
But Poltergeist crossed the line. I had always turned to my Sears Sanyo to get me through pitch-black anxieties about any approaching doom, in whatever form I had most recently learned that doom was capable of taking. And my imagination was expansive then. I was afraid of everything: birds, dolls, mirrors, the moon, hallways, vampires, my parents, ghosts, my bedroom walls, Grover, snakes, robots, Hulk Hogan. But once my mother had accepted the fact that I would never grow out of needing the television's company through the night, I found my cure. Cartoons and Mary Tyler Moore.
And then — bam! Someone let me watch Poltergeist. A movie that robbed me of the only source of comfort I knew in my childhood years. I couldn't zone out in unblinking bliss at the electronic friend that would tell me stories of gambling-addict cavemen and Minneapolis-based women trying to have it all. Now, my watching hours were laced with a new anxiety. "What if it suddenly turns to static?" I'd think. "What if the ghosts start flying out? What if they're heeere?"
I remember the decadent period of nights with my back turned to the still-on TV set, vying ardently to fall asleep before any sounds of static caught my ears. I remember experimenting with the television turned off for a while... a few minutes, maybe, before the hostile silence began to pierce my brain incessantly. I remember trying nightlights, devising long and elaborate stories in my head, and, out of desperation, actual sheep-counting. But none of it was as effective as TV had been.
I had to devise a plan. I needed my friend back. I missed sleep, and Rhoda. So, utilizing the logic only an emotionally damaged 7-year-old could so adamantly employ, I set out to beat the curse. I sat up one night, eyes locked with the imposing screen of a long estranged comrade, and watched every minute of the after-hours broadcast. I watched Herman and Grandpa Munster search for their lost pet Spot; I watched Murray Slaughter profess his love to coworker Mary Richards; Felix and Oscar got stuck on the subway; Paul Lynde said something covertly sexual on Bewitched. I watched every instant of the all-night broadcast until it the sun shone in through my window, comforting me with enough light to finally drift off to sleep... for the brief half an hour before I had to get up for school. But that didn't matter. I had won the war, and beaten the curse. Television was mine again.
And it would be for the next eight years... until I took it upon myself to join my friends to a late-night screening of The Ring. But by then, the war was easier. We had HBO.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.
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In the grand tradition of modernizing classic brands, MTV2 announced that they will revive the game show property Hollywood Squares with a 21st century spin. Hip Hop Squares will feature familiar names like DJ Khaled, Fat Joe, Mac Miller, Machine Gun Kelly, Ghostface Killah, Nick Cannon while throwing in the occasional associated panelist, including Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley and Jackass/Wildboyz star Bam Margera. Speaking to EW, MTV2's programming chief Paul Ricci the goal was to "refresh an iconic format and create a fun, dynamic series that's unpredictable, heavy on personality and much more 'party' than 'game show'."
That line-up carries serious weight, but there's a missing piece of the puzzle that helped the show's previous incarnations become milestones. Based on the released hip hop-centric panelists, there's a complete lack of diversity — specifically on the sexual-orientation front. That may not seem like a big deal, but for all of the game show brand's kitsch and silliness, Hollywood Squares pushed the envelope; in 1968, the original version anchored the show with Paul Lynde, who, while never revealing his personal sexual preferences, but retroactively became a gay figurehead. In the 1998 revival, comedian Bruce Vilanch was a permanent fixture, routinely cracking innuendo jokes that spoofed his sexuality. There's no written rule that Hollywood Squares needs a gay cast member to function or be properly executed, but it's boldly hosted them with little audience resistance and always for entertainment-driven reasons.
The hip hop industry is notoriously narrow and there history with the gay community has rough patches. Currently, there aren't openly gay rappers working with mainstream labels. But Hip Hop Squares panelist Fat Joe believes there are plenty working in the industry. In a 2011 interview, the rapper told VladTV that he believed there was a large gay community in the hip-hop world — but that they weren't coming out. “I think I’ve done songs with gay rappers. I’m pretty sure of that … I happen to think there’s a gay mafia in hip-hop. Not rappers — editorial presidents of magazines, the PDs at radio stations, the people who give you awards at award shows … They’re in power … So why wouldn’t a guy come out and say, ‘Yo, I’m gay’ and get that type of love? " Author Terrance Dean corroborates the idea in his 2008 book Hiding in Hip Hop: On the Down Low in the Entertainment Industry — from Music to Hollywood. Gay hip hop artists exist — and may even be stars — but the industry pressure doesn't allow them to be open.
Even if gay artists aren't prominent in the big labels, they are working, and thriving, in the US. MC Big Freedia is breaking out in New Orleans, helping expand the Sissy Bounce genre out of its regional confines (he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! earlier this year), while Cazwell has gained notoriety through the True Color Tour and LOGO promotion — but you won't find his music videos running in regular rotation on Viacom's sister site MTV.
In a strange way, MTV2 has an opportunity with Hip Hop Squares. Bring in the audience that comes for Ghostface Killah, Nick Cannon and a handful of NFL stars then expose them to some wonderful gay talent. Based on the announced line-up, the show already sounds homogeneous. The rap world is dying for a breakout, an equality game changer that even the media seems unable to crack (The New York Times is profiling MC Big Freedia and yet few have heard of him). The new Hollywood Squares needs its Paul Lynde, its Bruce Vilanch, its diversity. And there are plenty of choices.
Thanks to @JenniMiller and @gmorse for additional research.
Find Matt Patches directly on Twitter @misterpatches and remember to follow @Hollywood_com![EW]
What with the arrival of the new Winnie the Pooh movie, I've begun thinking back to my childhood. Some of my earliest memories, dating back as far as my second and third years of life, are movies...and I'm not just saying that because my assignment was to come up with the best movies for young children. I do mean it, movies shaped my life. Right around when I should have been developing social skills, I was actually setting the foundation for lifelong obsession with movies. Naturally, my tastes back then diverge slightly from those of present day (although my pre-Kindergarten self did have a strange penchant for Oliver Stone). As I do now, I had my small group of films that I’d watch over and over without ever becoming bored with them. Some, I now recognize, were crap. They offered nothing to my growing mind, did a shoddy job of highlighting the ideas of character, story or a moral in a constructive way, or were just really inappropriate. But some, let me tell you, were gold: really wholesome, plausibly educational, and genuinely good, worthwhile entertainment for young children. Hollywood.com has compiled a list of these types of movies for every one of our readers who has access to a child through which to earn an excuse to watch them:
Let’s kick this off with a classic Disney film, since I’ve been programmed from birth to associate the corporation with happiness. A movie that I would consider one of the greatest achievements of Disney animation, specifically for young children, is Peter Pan. Starting with the surface value aspects: it’s a comical, colorful journey in a magical imaginary land with flying fairies and children dressed in rabbit-eared coveralls. The whole story is about what it means to be a kid, which, as a kid, you’d never really consider or appreciate; but you’d enjoy watching a movie about it the same. The thing that really sells this for me over other Disney cartoons is its lack of severity. Captain Hook thinks of himself as a tyrant and a menace to justice, but he’s actually a pretty big goof, constantly being chased around by an alligator (who had a clock in his stomach for a reason I don’t remember). For older kids, the more threatening villains of Scar and Jafar of Disney films that came out in my lifetime might present a more legitimate story—but for toddlerhood, I think a comical, non-scary villain will do just fine.
There’s too much to say about Charlotte’s Web to do it justice in a short summation. It is rife with depth. It’s at once about friendship, identity, mortality, responsibility, growth, time and the circle of life (but it's not all in your face about it like some movies I know). The complexity of the themes and the plot, which is more or less episodic teamed with a sort of archaic, rural vernacular used by the majority of the characters (or maybe that's just the Long Island snob in me talking) did keep me from a complete understanding of what was going on throughout the movie. But as a kid, I wasn't so hung up on following every detail. The likability of each of the characters, especially Paul Lynde's snide derelict,Templeton the rat, and the triumphantly catchy songs were enough to convince me to watch this movie on a weekly basis.
BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN
This is one of those kids’ movies that was like a freaking acid trip. A couple of children get teleported to a mountain after chasing a couple of bears, or gremlins, or something—there were fairies and creatures and insane colors and people singing…it was a pretty wild adventure. But I remember it being ample entertainment. The film culminates with an allegory about a rabbit transforming into a “goon” as punishment for unkind behavior, which provokes the following wordplay delivered by a Boston Brahmin owl: “Hare today, goon tomorrow!” Now, as a kid, I had no idea why the entire cast broke out laughing when he said. But as a young adult, I finally understand. Comic genius.
THE CARE BEARS MOVIE
It’s really hard to take a definitively positive stance on Care Bears. The films were not particularly well-written or fertile with any sort of artistic merit. Personally, they didn’t leave as lasting an impression on me as did the other movies I’ve listed here. But, when it comes right down to it, they’re nice. They’re simply about the value of love. Happiness. Kindness. Caring. And I guess, in principle, I don’t particularly oppose any of those things. It’s good to instill morality in children—even you are beating them over the head with it like this movie is. But truly, The Care Bears Movie and each of its sequels are a decent watch for children. They’re certainly better than the other extreme, anyway.
FOLLOW THAT BIRD
I recently tried to impart Sesame Street onto my nine month-old nephew (which might make up for having read him the first chapter of Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail). He took to the show pretty well—I think the focus was on the letter 'G'. Did you know they’re still doing letters? And you know what else? Maria is still on the show! What a trooper.
But I digress. Follow That Bird is the tops. Familiar, beloved characters stepping out of their ordinary setting to take on a more exciting adventure—I think that’s what makes an epic childhood movie. For those unfamiliar, Big Bird is relocated to a family of birds somewhere out in the boondocks by an antagonistic but generally well-intentioned social worker who deems Sesame Street an unfit home for BB, due to his lack of bird companions. I do remember struggling with the idea that Big Bird doesn’t have a literal family of his own—which is pretty heavily what the plot was about—which conjured up some solemn wonderings on what might have happened to them. But this passes pretty early on, as there’s a ton of funny stuff going on with all of the Sesame Street residents, who take to the road in a It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World style to bring Big Bird home. There’s also a tangential plot wherein a couple of sleazy carnival-runners kidnap Big Bird to use him in an act—but the bad guys here are way too goofy to be threatening in any way. The best part about this movie, which I found out while doing research for this article: one of the two "bad guys" was played by Uncle Trevor from Arrested Development, which I guess makes this movie…for Birdish eyes onlyyy!
I am SO sorry for that.
MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO
Roger Ebert has called this one of his all-time favorite movies. I don’t know if that validates anything, but it can’t hurt. Maybe it can... forget I brought it up. My Neighbor Totoro is a Japanese film about two young sisters' friendships with woodland sprites. It has been genuinely revered by pretty much every movie critic out there since its release in 1993; all of whom seem to praise especially the authenticity of the two girls, aged approximately ten and four. My Neighbor Totoro creates a world of beauty and whimsy instead of peril and dangers to be overcome, as do many children's cartoons, inscrutably. The film is more about conveying the wonder of and promoting an appreciation for life than it is a means to tell a linear story; the provocation of a child's senses of fascination and imagination is something that can never be overdone.
MILO AND OTIS
This might very well be the greatest children’s movie ever made. I found it in the discount bin at Wal-Mart in my sophomore year of college—that was a big Wal-Mart year for me—bought it and watched it with one of my housemates: absolute GOLD. Milo is a cat, Otis is a pug, Dudley Moore is the comic genius who voices them, and pure, unadulterated glory is what they deliver. It has everything a kid needs: is a story, narration, dialogue, the works. But for kids who may get confused by plotlines or have trouble focusing on stories (I was one… I remember having no idea what the hell was going on in Aladdin), this movie is still enjoyable, thanks to the adorable animals exploring fascinating forests, teamed with funny exchanges in goofy voiceover. Mostly, it’s about friendship: one of the best values you can instill in a child. Through all their adventures, Milo and Otis never give up on each other. Despite an innate tendency toward enemyship between cats and dogs which has been propagandized via every cartoon ever made, Milo and Otis stick together, get each others' backs, compliment one another's characters, and prove to all audiences that there is some good in the world. And THAT is the kind of thing we all want our kids to believe. Probably. I wouldn't know, I'm just an uncle.
I know that everyone who reads this article will lament my overlooking of his or her childhood favorite. I've even left a few of my own preferences out: Toy Story, Homeward Bound, 101 Dalmations, The Muppets Movie, Brave Little Toaster, Platoon...we were all touched by different masterworks of cinema at early ages, so to each of us, there will be different Classic Childhood Movies.
But we can all agree on one thing: Fantasia was freaky as hell.